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Fake news on social media hinders vaccination efforts in Papua New Guinea

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A health worker prepares to take tests for the Covid-19 coronavirus outside a makeshift clinic at a sports stadium in Port Moresby on April 1, 2021.

Gorethy Kenneth | UKTN | Getty Images

Disinformation on social media is hampering Papua New Guinea’s vaccination efforts.

Many people are hesitant about inoculation due to the spread of false vaccine information even as coronavirus cases increase, according to PNG’s Covid-19 response controller.

The country reported 1,730 cases and 12 deaths between March 29 and April 4, according to a joint report by the World Health Organization and PNG’s national health department.

Cases of infection saw a further increase in February, and PNG has so far reported 7,839 cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. However, the consensus is that the actual number is much higher, masked by low testing capacity and other logistical difficulties.

“We were lulled into a kind of sense of complacency, a false sense of security that we got over from this first wave, which we dreaded,” said David Manning, national controller for the response to the Covid-19 pandemic in PNG. , to UKTN’s Will Koulouris.

Located in northern Australia, Papua New Guinea is a heavily forested island country with a population of less than 9 million.

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Of course, this is attributed to reluctance to vaccinate, and you can attribute it to a lack of awareness.

David manning

national pandemic response controller, Papua New Guinea

The National Capital District, home to PNG’s capital, Port Moresby, has the highest number of reported cases, followed by the Western Province where the infection rate is also on the rise.

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A combination of events – funerals, holidays and the resumption of schools – led to the “continued transmission of the virus,” William Pomat, director of the PNG Institute for Medical Research, told UKTN last week.

Reluctance to vaccines

So-called “vaccine nationalism” has made it difficult for small developing countries like PNG to access vaccines to immunize their populations. Many of them rely on an international vaccination initiative called Covax, but the vaccine supply for this program faces delays from India, which is also struggling to contain an increase in cases to home.

PNG launched a vaccination campaign last week using around 8,000 doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine that were donated by neighboring Australia. Other doses are expected in the coming weeks from China and India.

The island nation has so far vaccinated fewer than 600 people, significantly delaying the schedule, according to Manning.

“Of course, this is attributed to the reluctance to vaccinate, and you can attribute it to a lack of awareness – basically, the information around, if there are any side effects from the vaccine and the fake news spreading. via social media, ”he said. , adding that there is comparatively less reluctance on the part of vaccine skeptics in urban areas.

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Fight against disinformation

Manning said Facebook reached out to PNG to ask how the social network could help dispel some of the misinformation being disseminated, but he did not expand on the details of that conversation.

Facebook launched a public education campaign in PNG this week to help users discover how to identify and combat health misinformation. It will run for five weeks and will include graphics and videos in multiple languages.

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“For this campaign, we are focusing our efforts more on targeting Covid-19 and vaccine-related misinformation, ensuring that Papua New Guinea is able to examine what they see in relation to official resources from public health, ”Mia Garlick, director of public policy for Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands said on Facebook on Wednesday in a statement.

“This campaign is also in addition to an invitation we launched in Papua New Guinea last week to
provide local users with Covid-19 prevention tips, ”Garlick added.

Struggling health care infrastructure

The outbreak is putting undue strain on PNG’s already poor healthcare infrastructure.

International organizations such as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) have warned of an impending collapse. Many frontline health workers, who are already few in number, are falling ill with Covid-19, experts have said.

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“If they get sick, then we won’t have anyone standing – not just for Covid, but for other illnesses and so on,” Pomat of the Institute for Medical Research said.

He explained that Covid tests are only carried out for those who “might show up (at) a health facility when they show symptoms, and those who volunteer to enter. “

Even then, hospitals and medical facilities are running out of the components needed to perform these tests.

While PNG is working with its development partners, including Australia, to ensure the supply of additional test kits and components, it has also put in place stricter social restrictions. For example, stores have been asked to refuse entry to people not wearing masks when interprovincial travel is strictly regulated.

Manning said the response to the pandemic must be tailored to PNG’s coastal communities as well as the highlands region where, even in the best of circumstances, it is difficult to provide health care, policing or government.

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“So we have now shifted our focus from a national response to a provincial response, and we are working closely together. with provincial health authorities who are currently inundated with surges, ”he said.

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